First Read: The Pressure's on Paul Ryan

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By Mark Murray, Chuck Todd and Carrie Dann

Pressure’s on Paul Ryan

As of this writing, there’s a very good chance we’ll see Rep. Paul Ryan, chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, relent and take the speaker’s job -- even if temporarily -- even though he and his office have tried to shut the door at every opportunity. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this morning, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said he was fairly confident that Ryan would take the job. So why would Ryan take it, despite all of his earlier statements? It might come down to this: If not him, then who? But the window to pressure Ryan might be short -- if House Republicans don’t get him to acquiesce today, then there is the possibility he’s able to close the door once and for all. But as Ned Stark learned in “Game of Thrones,” sometimes your first instinct is the right one. As one Democratic aide told the New Republic’s Suzy Khimm, “The only good option [for Republicans] is Ryan and he is too smart to take the job,” likening the speakership to the king’s “hand” in “Game of Thrones.” The aide continued that Ned Stark didn’t want the job at first “because that guy always gets his head chopped off. They persuade him to take the job, and guess what? He gets his head chopped off.”

But how many more chopped-off heads can there be?

It’s worth pointing out: House Republican rebels and the House Freedom Caucus have now gotten three political scalps over the past year -- Eric Cantor (who lost his primary in 2014), John Boehner (who announced he’s stepping down two weeks ago), and Kevin McCarthy (who yesterday abandoned his bid to run for speaker). The House GOP’s original 1-2-3 are essentially gone. And this COULD be a blessing for Ryan (or whomever the next speaker is), because House rebels might simply get tired of collecting political scalps. Or do they? A final point here: Cantor, McCarthy, and Ryan were dubbed the “Young Guns” and even wrote a book together entitled: “Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders.” But there’s essentially only one “Young Gun” now left -- Paul Ryan. By the way, you may be asking why we keep writing about McCarthy in the past tense; after all, he said he plans to stay on as majority leader. It’s possible McCarthy can stay on as the No. 2, but many veterans in the House can’t figure out how McCarthy can still be effective in his job given all that has happened. Bottom line: Don’t assume McCarthy is out of the woods yet.

On Hillary, TPP, and the trust deficit

For the second time in two weeks, Kevin McCarthy has bailed out Hillary Clinton -- first with his Benghazi committee comments, and second with his big news from yesterday, which stopped (temporarily) the focus on Hillary’s TPP flip-flop. But we want to make another point on that flip-flop: It’s a vulnerable time for Clinton to be adding to her trust deficit, especially with Tuesday’s debate coming up. The good news for Clinton: The email story has (mostly) been out of the news for her over the past couple of weeks. The bad news: This TPP flip-flop will be fodder at the upcoming debate. The New York Times’ David Brooks unloads on her. “This was not only a substantive flip-flop. It was so naked it amounted to a bold and clarion statement of faith on behalf of flip-flopping itself. It suggested a whole style of campaigning and method of governing based on the principle of unprincipledness.” Could this short-term gain with labor create long term pain for the general?

Another decision weekend for Biden

As for Vice President Joe Biden, we keep running in the same place: Will he run or won’t he? The latest speculation comes from the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, who reports that Biden associates met with the Democratic National Committee to go over delegate and calendar rules. (A DNC spokesperson would not confirm the news to NBC News.) But let’s cut to the chase: If a decision doesn’t come this weekend, it’s probably never going to come -- or if it does, Biden will be starting SO FAR behind, it might be impossible to catch up to Hillary Clinton or even Bernie Sanders. And progressives are beginning to grow tired of the Hamlet on the Potomac act. “[T]he game Joe Biden is playing now, in holding back on making his decision and telling us what he plans to do, just has to end, and fast. At best it’s becoming a farcical distraction that is beneath him. At worst it’s becoming a serious waste of our time,” writes the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. Ouch.

Update on the 3rd quarter money race

Turning to the 3rd quarter money race, we got new numbers yesterday -- $6 million raised for Marco Rubio and $12.2 million for Ted Cruz. Here’s where the 3rd quarter race stands for now:

  • Clinton: $28M-plus ($75M-plus for campaign)
  • Sanders: $26M-plus ($41M-plus for campaign)
  • Carson: $20M-plus ($30M-plus for campaign)
  • Cruz: $12.2M million ($26.2M for the campaign)
  • Bush: B/w $12M and $20M (raised $11.4 million last quarter)
  • Rubio: $6M ($18M for campaign)
  • Paul: $2.5M ($9.4M for campaign)

Here’s the question we have: Is Ted Cruz going to be second in the GOP field, outraising Jeb Bush? (We still don’t have Jeb’s actual 3rd quarter number). And here’s the follow-up question: Is Cruz maybe the most underrated candidate in the GOP field so far?

The dark-money 501c4 helping Marco Rubio

As for Rubio’s money, don’t miss this piece by the AP: “The Florida senator is benefiting in unprecedented ways from a nonprofit group funded by anonymous donors. While other presidential candidates also have ties to secret-money groups, the Rubio arrangement is the boldest. Every pro-Rubio television commercial so far in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina has been paid for not by his campaign or even by a super PAC that identifies its donors, but instead by a nonprofit called Conservative Solutions Project. It's also sending Rubio-boosting mail to voters in those same states.” Per our ad-spending tracking, Conservative Solutions Project has spent nearly $5 million in the 2016 race.

Carson defends Rupert Murdoch

“He’s not a racist”: In an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Ben Carson responded to the tweet that media mogul Rupert Murdoch fired off on Wednesday, suggesting that President Obama is not a “real black” president, while Carson might be one. “Well, I know Rupert Murdoch. I can tell you he’s not a racist. You know, I don’t think he had any implications in a racist direction, and I think he’s simply saying that this president, who was the pride and joy of black Americans, has really not done a whole lot for black Americans. It probably could have been expressed in a different way.”

Bloomberg doesn't 100% rule out a presidential bid

In an interview on MTP Daily, Chuck Todd asked former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg if he would 100% rule out a presidential bid in 2016. He wouldn't.

Bloomberg: "I'm very flattered that people would ask, you would ask. But the truth of the matter is, I'm very happy doing two things: running my company and working with the United Nations and with the U.S. government on climate change. And that's what we're here to talk about.Todd: Shermanesque?Bloomberg: Say again?Todd: Are you going to be Shermanesque about this?Bloomberg: Sherman? He was a general back in the Civil War, don't you remember that--Todd: Look at you without the Shermanesque, though no Shermanesque?Bloomberg: You know, we've got to focus on climate change.

Look, we don’t think Bloomberg will run. He’s a man without a party. But you can also tell he MIGHT still want to be part of the national debate.

U.S. to scale back in Syria?

That's what Bloomberg View's Josh Rogin and Eli Lake are reporting. “A week into Russia's military intervention in Syria, some top White House advisers and National Security Council staffers are trying to persuade President Barack Obama to scale back U.S. engagement there, to focus on lessening the violence and, for now, to give up on toppling the Syrian regime. In addition, administration officials and Middle East experts on both sides of the debate tell us, Obama's foreign-policy team no longer doubts that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to prop up President Bashar al-Assad and primarily target opposition groups other than the Islamic State, including those trained by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Bernie on “Meet” this weekend: Finally, on “Meet the Press” this weekend, NBC’s Chuck Todd will interview Bernie Sander.

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